Ash Wednesday: Catholic Mating Identification Day
This is one of the most solemn days on the liturgical calendar, marking Jesus's departure to pray and meditate - and endure diabolical temptation - in the desert, in preparation for the culmination of His earthly mission, entry into Jerusalem, and death on the cross. Our Lord spent forty days in the desert - a profoundly symbolic number in the scriptures, which also marked the number of days the skies poured rain during Noah's flood and the years the Israelites wandered in the desert after leaving Egypt, before they found the Promised Land. (Look at a biblical atlas some time to see how they must have wandered; it's not that far from Egypt to Israel. Those Jews were good and lost. They were probably using Mapquest, which has sent the authors two hours astray in the snow on to service roads of Newark Airport, simply to avoid a seventy-five-cent toll on the New Jersey Turnpike. But we digress.)
To mark the onset of penance, the Church distributes ashes to Catholics which are rubbed on the forehead with the timeless warning "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return." This ceremony is so vivid that it has the power to draw people to church who almost never otherwise attend. (So Catholics like free samples - what's wrong with that? See you on Palm Sunday!) Our favorite Ash Wednesday anecdote concerns an old parish of ours near Grand Central Terminal that had a fire, and hence an abundance of ashes, but no place to hand them out. So the priests put on their stoles and stood in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal - as fearless as Hari Krishnas in an airport - and smudged the foreheads of anyone who stopped by. This sort of "drive-through" Ash Wednesday service proved much more popular than any actual liturgies that day, and was soon discontinued. But it shows the enduring power of this public sign of penance, which serves to mark one's intention to lead a truly penitent Lent.
It's also a handy way for single Catholics to spot each other and meet. For one day a year, that cute intern you've been eyeing in the elevator, the distinguished executive who doesn't have a wedding ring, the pink-faced Polish waitress or Irish construction worker, walks around all day with a sticker on his or her head that says "Marriage Material." We know that there isn't the same opprobrium attached to mixed marriages as there used to be; mixed couples no longer have to hold the wedding ceremony in the rectory. But there is still something powerfully appealing about finding someone who shares your deepest beliefs about the world, who speaks in the same vocabulary of faith - and feels guilty about all the same things. It clears away any number of potential areas of conflict, such as which religious services you're going to attend, and to which sort of miserable school you're going to send your kids.
So if you're a single Catholic, take full advantage of the solemn fast we like to call "Mating Identification Day" by making a point of meeting those unhitched papists you've been ogling all year. Here is a list of classic "Catholic pick-up lines" that have been circulating in church vestibules and email inboxes for years, which Catholic writer Patrick Madrid sorted out, edited, and (most importantly) copyrighted in his delightful magazine Envoy. Clearly, they're designbed for Catholics of a particular sort - the serious, self-described "orthodox" believers who have probably already slammed this book shut with a guilty smile.
TOP TEN CATHOLIC PICK-UP LINES
10. May I offer you a light for that votive candle?
9. Hi there. My buddy and I were wondering if you would settle a dispute we're having. Do you think the word should be pronounced HOMEschooling, or homeSCHOOLing?
8. Sorry, but I couldn't help but noticing how cute you look in that ankle-length, shapless, plaid jumper.
7. What's a nice girl like you doing at a First Saturday Rosary Cenacle like this?
6. You don't like the Culture of Death either? Wow! We have so much in common!
5. Let's get out of here. I know a much cozier little Catholic bookstore downtown.
4. I bet I can guess your Confirmation name.
3. You've got stunning, scapular-brown eyes.
2. Did you feel what I felt when we reached into the holy water font at the same time?
1. Confess here often?
*From the highly recommended book "The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living" by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak. (I'd link to it's Amazon page, but buy it from your local Catholic bookstore instead, okay? They can probably use your support.)
Check here for a good review, and if you haven't already read it, consider doing so as a little light reading this Lent. It's funny and informative and I suspect you'll find you're a better Catholic when you're done with it.